Review: The Chrysalids; John Wyndham

“Once we allow things that we know are not right, there’s no telling where it will end…” (4 stars) 

Source- personal copy

First published by Penguin UK in 1955. This edition published in 2008.

The paperback version is 200 pages. 

This was a book with such a simple premise, though a premise which was executed wonderfully well. It was a novel that I actually enjoyed much more than I had anticipated, having read quite a lot of other ‘dystopian fiction’ reads as of late and becoming a bit worried I had reached my ‘apocalyptic fiction’ threshold! This slice of classic sci-fi set in a post-nuclear world was truly fascinating and thoroughly explores the lengths that people will go to try and conform and their fears at what is deemed to be ‘unnatural.’ 

In a future some centuries from now, David Strorm’s preacher father has certain ideas about society and what is and what is not accepted. Definitely not accepted are his neighbour’s unusually large horses, which he deems to be blasphemies against nature. Other things that fall into this category are deviant crops, animals and babies born with defects; in fact, anything within this deviant category is classified as not ‘pure’ and is immediately destroyed. 

David has been harbouring a secret from his bigoted, intolerant father however- he, his little sister and cousin have their own ‘abnormality’ which would label them as genetic mutants. It is only as they grow older that it becomes increasingly difficult to conceal their startling differences from their peers and they now face a terrible choice: waiting to be discovered or fleeing their homes forever… 

One of the facets that I originally found a bit annoying about this novel was that some of its information was merely ‘drip-fed’ to the readers in the beginning. A character at the start of the novel vanishes without further explanation, only to suddenly reappear again towards the end of the story. At first this bothered me, but at the dénouement a lot of the facts were tied together beautifully and I lost my irritation with this aspect. 

Though the characters within this novel aren’t concisely described either, as a reader you come to know who is who just through their thoughts, emotions and actions, which are beautifully described. The world-building too, is actually second to none and I loved how the Strorm’s homestead was written within its isolated community, and the places further afield were portrayed; the country has been divided into districts (a bit like a modern-day Hunger Games) and it has its own ‘Fringe’ and ‘Badlands’ where normal people are warned not to venture to. It was sadly all too easy to imagine a chilling future like Wyndham has created when you dive between the surface and David’s religious zealot father was also realistically drawn. 

This book emerged out of the 1950’s cold war era and it is easy to see the parallels between the fears of the people at that time and the post-nuclear world created here. It is not clearly implied how exactly this new world emerged either, which adds an intriguing element to the storyline and you wonder just what else is out there- and who has survived, further away from David’s community and whether other people think the way that David’s father does. This is examined later in the novel with fascinating results.                                                                                                                  

The Chrysalids is a genuinely thought-provoking story with some complex, topical themes which demonstrates to just what extent Wyndham was a writer ahead of his time, even decades ago. It forces the reader to think about what ‘perfection’ really is and of the restrictions and conventions imposed by society and most importantly, what it really means to be human. Recommended for fans of dystopian fiction or ‘classic’ sci-fi; this is a really engrossing novel.

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